The FDA has approved two additional medications specifically for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms. The first drug to ever be approved for fibromyalgia treatment was Lyrica. Lyrica was developed as an anti-seizure medication and has FDA approval for this and treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy. Since its initial release, the FDA approved its use for symptomatic treatment of fibromyalgia.
Cymbalta was the second drug to be FDA approved for the treatment of fibromyalgia. This has been a tremendous addition to treatment of this disabling condition. The most recent medication approved for FM treatment is Savella. Prior to the FDA approval of these three medications, there were no proven effective treatments for fibromyalgia. What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a syndrome of diffuse muscle pains, fatigue, subjective weakness and multiple points of tenderness in spinal muscles (neck pain, back pain) as well as extremities. Other symptoms can be seen with FM. Mental clouding known as fibromyalgia fog is seen in some patients. These patients have a poorly understood clouding of their ability to think clearly. They are able to function but just feel slower in their ability to think and some have memory difficulties as well. It should be made clear that these patients do not have dementia. Fatigue is quite prominent and patients do not seem to be able to be able to get enough rest or restorative sleep. Sleep hygiene is frequently disturbed. Affected individuals have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, primarily due to their pain. There is a higher incidence of restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea in FM patients. Other common neurological conditions seen include headache, which is often a mixed headache disorder. Patients complain of a dull low grade daily headache combined with intermittent migraine-type headaches. Due to the chronic refractory nature of their pain and associated symptoms, there is a high incidence of depression in FM patients. It is absolutely necessary to recognize this depression and treat it aggressively to improve the quality of life for FM patients.
The precise cause of FM is not clearly understood. Frequently there is a history of preceding physical trauma. This can be seen after motor vehicle accidents with significant physical trauma or after other physically traumatic events. Some patients may develop FM after particularly severe infections or prolonged acute illnesses. There is a genetic component to FM as it tends to run in families. Put another way, if you have a first degree relative who suffers from FM, you have a higher chance of developing this condition than the general population. There is a clear female predominance of this condition. The exact mechanism of the muscle pain is also not well understood. Extensive study of the muscles has failed to reveal any muscle abnormality. EMG studies in affected patients are normal. More recent theories include the concept of central sensitization. In central sensitization, the FM patient’s brain has a different perception of pain signals. These patients seem to have marked hypersensitivity to lower degrees of pain impulses. These impulses are magnified to a much greater degree in FM patient as compared to the general population.
Treatment of FM can be difficult. Over-the-counter analgesics such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or Tylenol-like products may provide some temporary relief. Some patients may get benefit from a non-narcotic analgesic tramadol. Narcotics should be avoided due to the risk of abuse and addiction. Currently the state-of-the-art treatment in FM is using one of the three agents: Lyrica, Cymbalta or Savella. Lyrica is an antiseizure drug that also has proven effects in certain painful conditions, including FM. Cymbalta and Savella are both antidepressants that elevate the levels of norepinephrine in the brain. Norepinephrine is a major brain neurotransmitter. Higher levels of this transmitter somehow suppress the pain signals in the brain. These are nonnarcotic, nonaddictive medications. They also have added benefit in that they are antidepressants and can treat the depression that so often accompanies the pain of FM. Certainly some type of regular exercise can benefit patients. Each patient needs to find the particular exercise program that they can do without triggering worsening of their fibro pain. Water based or other nontraumatic exercises are the best in this regard.
Fibromyalgia can also be managed by appropriate, well balanced diet. Eat regularly with adequate daily intake of fruits and vegetables. In some patients, a dietary consultation can be helpful in designing a more appropriate diet. Adequate, restorative sleep is critical in controlling and improving the quality of life in fibro patients. If necessary, a mild sleeping agent can be employed. Despite these measures, FM patients will still have good and bad days. On the bad days, one must recognize this and have a more restful, less stressed day.
The first step in getting better, is to see a physician that specializes in treating fibromyalgia. Adequate laboratory testing should be performed to rule out more serious conditions such as thyroid disease, other muscle diseases, rheumatoid arthritis or other connective tissue disorders.